A Solution to the Problem of Indeterminate Desert

Mind 121 (481):37-65 (2012)
A desert-sensitive moral theory says that whether people get what they deserve, whether they are treated as they deserve to be treated, plays a role in determining what we ought to do. Some popular forms of consequentialism are desert-sensitive. But where do facts about what people deserve come from? If someone deserves a raise, or a kiss, in virtue of what does he deserve those things? One plausible answer is that what someone deserves depends, at least in part, on how well he meets his moral requirements. The wicked deserve to suffer and the decent do not. Shelly Kagan (2006) has argued that this plausible answer is wrong. But his argument for that conclusion does not succeed. I will show how to formulate a desert-sensitive moral theory (and also a desert-sensitive version of consequentialism) on which this answer is correct
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